Embodiment of the Divine

Karima Knickmeyer

Images of the human body shown today stage it as a means of expressing individuality and personality. We dress, shape and present it in the way we want to be seen and, above all, it should stand for one thing - ourselves.
Is there an alternative to this subjective and profane view of the body? What role did and does it play in other societies and especially in religious contexts?
This short video shows how different corporeality can be seen in approaches of Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.
The following video only touches on these contexts. If you are interested in a follow-up on this topic, please leave a comment under the video. The more people are interested, the more likely I am to offer a more in-depth version.
For now, have a good time with this one: The Body in Religious Art and Architecture


Karima Knickmeyer

What are our ideas of other cultures? How much of them remain superficial and what knowledge do we really have about them? Are we influenced by the short presentations and reports of the daily press?
The process, which is commonly described today as 'cultural appropriation', can consist of the adoption of superficial features as well as the selected reproduction of knowledge and is an integral part of human history.
All world religions and bigger cultures use a potpourri of images, symbols and stories from many smaller traditions. The aesthetic takeover of so-called 'orientalisms' is particularly pronounced. Especially since the modern era, wealthy and powerful Europeans have been portrayed in oriental attire.
Portrait of Ferdinando II. de Medici Dressed in Oriental Costume, Justus Sustermans, c.1640, Galleria Palatina, Florence.
Sultans Wife Drinking Coffee (Mme de Pompadour), Carle van Loo, 1747, Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.
What was particularly important here was the visual comparison of cultures. Either the dark-skinned servants were accommodated directly, or the European image tradition was maintained in such way that the oriental clothing and furniture were clearly recognizable as accessories, as additions that were intended to demonstrate the cultural reach of the person portrayed. This reach did not exclusively, but most notably, due to the economic and political colonization of other cultures, which, without such a strong urge to expand, had correspondingly less reach. Napoleon Bonaparte's (1769-1721) campaigns in particular initiated a state-controlled production of both scientific and artistic representations.
Inscribed in these images, we often see this hierarchical relationship between cultures and a stereotypical view of living in other countries.
But there were aswell artists who dared to obtain and reproduce a more comprehensive picture; venturing on trips to the so-called 'Orient' and even converting to Islam (like the French artist Etienne, called Nasreddinne, Dinet (1861-1929).

View of Palm-Groves Laghouat, Etienne Dinet, c. 1890, Private Collection.

The renowned Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) also made several trips to North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean. His paintings reflect his concern for close observation, both of people and of handicrafts and architecture. In some places he also takes up the mystical character of oriental fairy tales.
Women of Algiers in their Apartment, Eugène Delacroix, 1834, Musée du Louvre, Paris.
The Death of Sardanalpalus, Eugène Delacroix, 1827, Musée du Louvre, Paris.
The literary scholar and cultural theorist Edward Said describes this so-called 'orientalism' in more detail and formulates critically how the political West views other cultures.
In this regard, this video provides more information: Orientalism and Art History - Edward Said's Theory
This eCourse, which deals extensively with political backgrounds and artistic interpretations, offers more on the subject of orientalism in European art:
Orientalism in European Art History - Udemy Kurs